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The Detroit Lions are getting considerably younger on defense

The future looks bright for this budding Lions defense.

Super Bowl LIII Opening Night Fueled by Gatorade Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The easiest way for an NFL team to get younger is through the draft. You can get high-impact players at a discounted price and hold the future to that player’s potential.

But the Detroit Lions managed to somehow get more youthful and arguably more talented through free agency—a period in which teams routinely overpay for aging players nearing over-the-hill status.

As a result, the Lions’ defense is already much more youthful than it was at this point last year, and you can easily make the argument that it’s much more talented, too.

Take a look at Detroit’s starting lineup in Week 1 of 2018 and their age at the time:

Ricky Jean Francois: 31
Sylvester Williams: 29
Ezekiel Ansah: 29
Devon Kennard: 27
Jarrad Davis: 23
Christian Jones: 27
Darius Slay: 27
Nevin Lawson: 27
Quandre Diggs: 25
Tavon Wilson: 28
Glover Quin: 32

Average age: 27.7 years

Now let’s look at the Lions’ projected starting lineup in 2019 and the ages they’ll be on Week 1.

Damon Harrison Sr.: 30
A’Shawn Robinson: 24
Trey Flowers: 26
Devon Kennard: 28
Jarrad Davis: 24
Christian Jones: 28
Darius Slay: 28
Justin Coleman: 26
Rashaan Melvin: 29
Quandre Diggs: 26
Tracy Walker: 24

Average age: 26.6

The difference in one age may not seem like much, but look a little closer. Last year, nine of 11 starters were 27 or older. For 2019, that number is just five of 11.

Getting younger on defense has plenty of benefits. Younger players are still entering their prime, they bring more long-term value, and for a team attempting to build a new culture, younger minds are more accepting towards new ideas. And for players still on rookie deals, younger also means considerably cheaper.

That isn’t to say there isn’t value in older players. With a younger roster, there is an inherent need for veteran players capable of mentorship. The Lions haven’t really lost much of that. While Glover Quin’s loss will certainly be felt, Darius Slay and Tavon Wilson have been around long enough to provide wisdom in the secondary. In the front seven, Damon Harrison and Devon Kennard are both 5+ year veterans who are also still playing at the top of their game.

And even the Lions’ depth remains pretty youthful. Players not mentioned as starters, but will undoubtedly factor into the team’s defense this year, include Da’Shawn Hand (23), Romeo Okwara (24), and possibly Jamal Agnew (24).

The future for the Lions’ defense is bright, and the 2019 NFL Draft hasn’t even happened yet.

Hat tip to PFF’s Brett Whitefield for the inspiration for this post.

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